How did Nashville Public Library tackle racism in classic children’s literature?
What they didn’t do… They did not take books like The Story of Little Black Sambo, Little House on the Prairie, Five Chinese Brothers and The Thanksgiving Story off the shelves and throw them in the trash, which was Lindsey Patrick’s (Regional Manager) first impulse. Acknowledging the issues that her lens as a white woman would bring to the work, she invited Klem-Mari Cajigas (the Family Literacy Coordinator and a Puerto Rican woman) to help her take some steps. They didn’t want to censor these and other problematic books, essentially shoving our racist and sexist history under the rug. And they knew that the crucial starting point was to listen to and respect the opinions of people from marginalized communities.
They created a Racist Children’s Book Task Force with a diverse group of people from different library departments. There was required reading as homework throughout the year that the Task Force met, along with book discussions and meetings on how to proceed. They created two action items: a series of book lists that cover many topics on diverse communities for a variety of ages, and a series of blog posts on how to share racist books with children using a culturally sensitive lens.
Lindsey and Klem-Mari talked about the emotional labor this work took, the need for white people to grow their stamina in having uncomfortable conversations about race, and provided some resource books for white people to use to learn and grow. I appreciated Lindsey’s references to her own work on acting in anti-racist ways and pursuing racial justice.